Remember Home Improvement, that 90s TV show with Tim Allen? Every time Tim Taylor—the tool-obsessed family man that Allen played—got a new tool or did something right, he would make guttural, “manly” grunting noises of approval. I’m not sure how to spell those noises, but any quick YouTube search will bring up an episode, and you can hear them for yourself. Another of his favorite catchphrases was “more power!” I bring this up because I’m much the same way when it comes to hi-fi gear: Put me in a room with some great-sounding equipment, and you’ll likely hear low-octave grunts of approval.
When I first heard Rogers High Fidelity’s (not to be confused with the British loudspeaker manufacturer Rogers) EHF-200 Mk2 integrated tube amp at CES 2014, I was spellbound—I knew I just had to hear more of it—and when a review sample arrived at my house, it was like Christmas. I hooked everything up, flipped the power switch, and watched the beautiful tubes come to life—and yes, grunted with such force that my significant other thought I’d gone crazy.
Roger Gibboni, the founder and leading force behind Rogers High Fidelity, has built a magnificent integrated amp, and given the better than 20 years he spent designing for NASA and the Department of Defense, he has unique insight into what it takes to build ultra-precise electronics.
The EHF-200 Mk2 ships standard with KT150 tubes (which do not have issues with microphonics), and outputs a staggering 112W in ultralinear and 80W in triode mode. Both modes run in Class A, and the integrated is a dual-mono design. I’m pretty sure this makes the EHF-200 Mk2 one of the most powerful Class A integrated tube amps on the market. There are other integrateds that scrape the 100W marker, but they use eight KT120s, whereas the EHF-200 Mk2 uses only four KT150s to achieve its massive 112W rating.
With all that power, the EHF-200 Mk2 has enough juice to drive even those low-sensitivity planar-magnetic speakers everyone loves. And while it’s perfectly capable of handling speakers with impedances of 2–32 ohms (please e-mail me if you have a 32-ohm speaker!), the EHF-200 Mk2 is designed specifically for 4-ohm loads that take advantage of the amp’s optimized damping factor.
I tested the integrated with the new $6k Endeavor E3s (review forthcoming), which are 4-ohm, 88dB, three-way floorstanders from California, kicking things off with a 24-bit/96kHz version of Leonard Bernstein conducting Le sacre du printemps with the New York Philharmonic—and whoa! The fourth movement, “Spring Rounds,” is always my favorite, because that’s when the orchestra really gets going: Gigantic drum thwacks shudder the walls, and the hi-fi system is really put to the test. This is also the point at which Parisian music lovers began to riot at the ballet’s 1913 premiere. I didn’t riot in my listening room, but the dynamics were simply incredible, and all the while the meter on the front of the EHF-200 Mk2 barely budged. So I did what Tim Taylor would do—I gave it more power!
The second time around, the meter stayed in the 20–40W range, and this is where the integrated really shined. Those earth-shattering drum thwacks stayed taut, punching me in the chest with lifelike force; the sudden punctuation of French horns almost made me jump out of my seat, while the dissonant strings kept me riveted. (Though I gave it even more power on the third listen— and here the drums started to lose their tautness—this produced levels far louder than anyone would ever want to listen at.) To put this plainly, the EHF-200 Mk2 dispelled the old notion that tube amps are lacking in the bass department; this is a tube integrated that has no problem hanging with the solid-state boys in the bottom octaves.
I wanted to push the bass even further with ISAM, an experimental ambient album from Brazilian musician Amon Tobin. On the opening track, “Journeyman,” the bass ripped from deep in the soundstage, hovered in mid air, and retreated left and right, all the while staying tight and crisp without regressing into a blob of annoying boominess. This is the kind of tautness and drive for which large solid-state amps are lauded, and yet the EHF-200 Mk2 handled this intense music with grace. The bass once again stayed well controlled until the volume was pushed to a level too loud for comfort.